Sera Monastery (སེ་ར་དགོན་པ།) is one of the most beautiful monastery compounds you will see in Tibet, and one of Lhasa’s several great religious institutes. Built on the gentle slope of a mountain overlooking Lhasa, its white stone roads and walkways feel almost Mediterranean. The roads are lined with beautiful trees and the debating courtyard looks like a private garden for kings. It appears cleaner and better maintained than most of the other monasteries. As you walk into the main meeting hall, look to your left before you enter the door. On the wall is the Tibetan Buddhist Circle of Life. Make sure your tour guide explains to you all of the parts of the image, as it will help you better understand the Tibetan worldview. If you have time, also stop by the bookstore, which has all of the Buddhist scriptures in paperback form, including some volumes in English.
Entrance to the main meeting hall at Sera Monastery
Sera Monk Debates
Don’t linger too long at the bookstore and miss the main attraction at Sera Monastery: the debates. Between 3 and 5 pm (Mon-Fri), young monks can be found scattered in groups of two to four all throughout the courtyard practicing their philosophy through debating one another. It is an interesting form of debate, as the speaker makes each of his points with his whole body. The thrust of his argument climaxing with raised voice and an enthusiastic clap of the hands downward toward his “opponent.” Some of them add their own flavor to the gesture, which makes things quite entertaining. Some of the monks can’t keep from laughing, and you won’t either!
About Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery is part of the Gelgupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and was founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe. Sakya Yeshe was a disciple of Tsongkhapa, a revered reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, and the founder of the Gelgupa sect.
The monastery sits in a northern suburb of Lhasa at the base of Pubuchok Mountain (or Tatipu Hill). The monastery is still said to include 28 acres, or 11 hectares, of land. At it’s prime, Sera Monastery held 5 separate colleges of instruction and 5000 monks, but the monastery today is significantly smaller in size. Unlike a lot of others, this monastery managed to escape complete destruction during the Cultural Revolution, primarily losing some of the buildings related to the smaller of its five colleges. As a result, Sera has undergone restorations, and guests today can still visit the three remaining functioning educational institutes.
Sera Me College
This college was founded with the monastery. It is known for teaching the fundamental precepts of Tibetan Buddhism.
Sera Ngagpa College
This is also one of the oldest structures at Sera Monastery. The college itself specializes in Tantric studies.
Sera Je College
Sera Je teaches itinerant monks from outside of the TAR, and is the largest of the three functioning educational institutes at the monastery.